Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

787788.jpg

Meet the majors' first two 9-game winners

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- On a bright, sunny afternoon, R.A. Dickey had the Washington hitters swinging at shadows. The knuckleballer baffled the Nationals, limiting them to four singles over 7 1-3 scoreless innings and leading the New York Mets to a 3-1 win Thursday. Dickey (9-1) extended the longest shutout string of his career to 24 2-3 innings -- a span that began against Pittsburgh and continued against San Diego, St. Louis and the Nats. "Literally, when I go out there, the only streak I care about is getting that hitter out," he said. "It doesn't change the mentality because there's a run of scoreless innings." Dickey became the first pitcher in the majors to reach nine wins this season, backed by Lucas Duda's fifth homer in eight games. Dickey also exceeded his victory total from last year, when he often was the victim of poor run support. "I'm getting more swings and misses. Other than that, I'm not doing anything differently," Dickey said. "I'm trying to induce them into hitting pieces of the ball, not getting solid contact," he said. Nationals teen Bryce Harper fanned twice. He awkwardly chased strike three in the first inning, then casually flipped his bat. No luck today, rookie. "He throws it hard, throws it soft. Sometimes, it starts at your face and goes down through the strike zone. He's a pretty unbelievable pitcher. It was pretty fun to face him, but going 0 for 4 is not fun," he said. "You're just trying to look for something up in the zone or just trying to swing as hard as you can or something. I don't even know. This is my first time really facing a knuckeball guy like that," he said. Duda hit his 10th homer, a two-run shot in the fifth against Chien-Ming Wang (1-2). Daniel Murphy, who earlier bounced into an inning-ending double play that left him in a 0-for-19 rut, later added an RBI single. The way Dickey has been pitching lately, those three runs were more than enough. He struck out eight and walked two, and most of the outs were soft ones. When Adam LaRoche worked out an 11-pitch walk, it was a major accomplishment. Mets manager Terry Collins said nice weather has been a factor in Dickey's good fortune, allowing him a better grip and therefore better command. "When you get in that batter's box, you better be ready to hit something that's fluttering," he said. Dickey credited a harder knuckleball -- thrown in the low 80s mph, up from the mid-70s -- with giving him a later, better break on the pitch. "I feel comfortable with where I am with the pitch," he said. "And look: It's a knuckleball. It can be fickle." Washington never got a runner past second base when Dickey was on the mound. He worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh and left after Jhonatan Solano's one-out single in the eighth. Reliever Bobby Parnell walked Rick Ankiel and after the runners moved up on a grounder, Harper grounded out to end the threat. Frank Francisco gave up Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff home run in the ninth before closing for his 15th save in 18 chances. The win stopped the Mets' three-game losing streak heading into the Subway Series that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium. The Mets had lost the first two at Nationals Park in the series. Wang allowed eight hits in 5 1-3 innings in his second start of the season. The Mets won for just the second time in 10 meetings with Washington since last September. There wasn't a whole lot for Nationals fans to cheer about on a bright afternoon until Zimmerman's third homer. Midway through the game, however, there was a ripple of applause throughout the crowd of 32,096 when clouds briefly blocked the glare.

------------------
HOUSTON (AP) -- David Freese struck out three times in the first six innings Thursday night. He more than made up for it over the last three. Freese hit his first career grand slam and a two-run homer and rookie Lance Lynn struck out a career-high 11 in earning his ninth win as the St. Louis Cardinals cruised past the Houston Astros 14-2. It was the first career multi-homer game for Freese and his six RBIs tied a career-high. "A typical night. Start slow and finish fast," Freese said with a laugh. Freese's slam in the seventh inning was the third homer of the game for St. Louis. He added a two-run shot in the ninth as the Cardinals scored a season-high. Carlos Beltran connected on his National League-leading 16th homer in the fifth and Shane Robinson added a two-run shot in the seventh to help the Cardinals take the series. Lynn's nine victories are tied with R.A. Dickey of the Mets for most in the NL. Lynn (9-2) allowed six hits and two runs to continue his mastery of the NL Central. He is 7-0 with 60 strikeouts in 15 career appearances in the division. "You could tell he felt really good today," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The ball was jumping out of his hand he was blowing fastballs pretty good." Houston starter J.A. Happ (4-6) allowed five hits and four runs with five walks in 4 2-3 innings. The Cardinals were up 5-2 before piling on seven runs in the seventh. St. Louis batted around in that inning with 11 Cardinals coming to the plate. Rafael Furcal singled with two outs in the seventh before consecutive walks to Beltran and Matt Holliday. Allen Craig hit an RBI single before Freese's shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field cleared the bases. Jed Lowrie gave Houston a 1-0 lead with a homer to the first row of the Crawford Boxes in the first inning. Brett Wallace doubled in the second on a ball that sailed over a leaping Craig and into the far corner of right field. Chris Johnson followed with an RBI double down the right field line to make it 2-0. Chris Snyder hit a one-out single and Jordan Schafer drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Lynn limited the damage by striking out Jose Altuve to end the inning. The Astros couldn't get much going offensively after that while the Cardinals heated up. Tyler Greene got the Cardinals' first hit -- a single to start the third inning. Happ then battled Robinson to a 12-pitch at-bat before walking him. Greene and Robinson both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Lynn before Greene scored on a bunt by Furcal to cut the lead to 2-1. "When as a team you're fighting at the dish and he goes up there and has a 10-plus pitch AB, you feed off that," Freese said of Robinson's at-bat. "I think every team feeds off that. "The good teams that end up winning the division and getting in the playoffs, one through nine, they battle in the box. The goal as an offense is to not let the pitcher have an easy inning." A sacrifice fly by Beltran tied it at 2-2, before Holliday walked. Craig's broken-bat RBI single to shallow right put St. Louis up 3-2. Happ finally got out of the inning when he struck out Freese on his 40th pitch of the frame. Beltran's first-pitch homer to left center came with one out in the fifth to push the lead to 4-2. Robinson singled in the sixth and scored on a single by Furcal with one out. Houston manager Brad Mills made some strange changes in the ninth inning when he put outfielder Brian Bogusevic in to pitch and moved Johnson, the third baseman, to right field. Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher, but had never pitched in a major league game and it was Johnson's first career appearance in the outfield. "It's something that is probably the last thing that a manager likes to have to go through, but to put that together to get through it, that's what we had to do," Mills said of the ninth-inning changes. Bogusevic allowed three hits and the home run to Freese in one inning. "It felt kind of strange, but once I knew I could throw strikes, I was more comfortable," Bogusevic said. Freese felt like hitting the homer off him was payback for one he took from him with a leaping catch in the stands on the Cardinals' last trip to Houston. "I don't like it. It's weird," Freese said of facing him. "But Bogusevic robbed me the last time we were here, so I'm going to count that one."

Quick Links

Jamison Crowder drops Giants special-teamer with obscene juke

Jamison Crowder drops Giants special-teamer with obscene juke

In a game as wild as Sunday's Redskins-Giants affair, where there was more storylines than Game of Thrones, some fantastic plays are forgotten. That's why this blog exists: To remind you of the fact that Jamison Crowder floored Dwayne Harris with one of the silliest jukes you'll ever see, in a move that should have Harris seriously considering retirement.

During the contest's second quarter, Crowder received a bouncing punt deep in his own territory. As the ball was hopping toward him, the second-year receiver was waving his arms in a "don't pick it up" motion, but eventually, he decided to.

Harris is wishing he hadn't.

After shimmying out of one New York tackle attempt, Crowder and Harris met on the sideline. It was here where No. 80 head-faked to the left then exploded to the right, and where Harris went flying into another dimension:

That right there is the Crowder Washington's front office was hoping they were getting as a punt returner coming out of Duke, and it was the first real flash from him in football's third phase. Harris, though, will remember the highlight as the sequence in which he realized the sport just isn't for him. 

MORE REDSKINS: QUINTON DUNBAR MAKES HISTORY

Quick Links

Bryce Harper's injury untimely, but Nationals' offense is heating up

Bryce Harper's injury untimely, but Nationals' offense is heating up

Notes and observations from the Nats' 10-7 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon…

Harper's untimely injury: The Nationals have another injury to worry about as they close the regular season and prepare for the playoffs, as Bryce Harper hurt his left thumb on an awkward slide into third base in Sunday's win. Now the reigning MVP heads for X-rays on Monday, hoping he didn't seriously damage the same thumb he tore a ligament in back in 2014.

The Nationals did not seem too worried based on their postgame comments to reporters, but it certainly bears watching with the playoffs set to begin in just about a week-and-a-half. Obviously, they would like to have Harper available for their postseason run, and he just happened to be heating up before he got hurt. Harper injured himself on a triple. He drove in a run earlier in the game on a groundout, had two RBI on Saturday and three hits on Friday. Harper has six hits in his last four games after having just one in his previous nine.

If Harper has to play through thumb pain moving forward, keep in mind how his 2014 problem significantly affected his power. Harper posted a career-low slugging percentage of .423. He's already struggled mightily at times this season and doesn't need anything else making it harder for him to be himself at the plate. It's a tough time for him to get hurt, but they do have over a week to get him right before the NLDS begins.

Nats offense kicking into gear: Harper's recent contributions have been part of an overall offensive surge for the Nats. With 10 runs on Sunday, the Nats have scored 29 total in their last four games. That's after posting just eight in their previous four games before that. Entering their weekend series against the Pirates, the Nats had the fewest runs of any NL team in the month of September. Offense was starting to look like a real issue for the Nationals, right as they neared the finish line of the regular season, but recently that has not been the case.

Cole, Latos, Glover continue to struggle: While the Nationals close out the final week of their regular season schedule, they will be closely evaluating their bench and bullpen in particular as they determine their final group for the playoff roster. Some tough decisions will be made on both accounts, but several Nats relievers may be pitching themselves out of contention for final spots.

A.J. Cole had another so-so outing on Sunday with three earned runs allowed on three walks and a hit in 2 2/3 innings of work. He only lasted 2 2/3 because he was ejected for throwing behind Jung Ho Kang in the third inning. Cole has now allowed 12 earned runs in his last 14 2/3 innings. That's a very discouraging trend for a guy who just a few starts ago looked like a potential playoff bullpen option.

Cole's downturn occurred following an impressive start against the Mets, an eye-opening performance against the Nats' division rival. The same thing happened to Mat Latos, who like Cole was good against the Mets but has since fallen off. Latos was charged with two earned runs on three hits and a walk in Sunday's win. He gave up two runs in his previous appearance against the Marlins on Sept. 19. That's two rough outings in a row with little time left to make an impression.

Rookie Koda Glover gave up the Pirates' final run on a homer by Kang in the bottom of the seventh. It was a two-run bomb, but the other run was charged to Sean Burnett, who was removed after walking Josh Bell with one out. Glover also gave up a run on Friday against the Pirates and has now allowed seven runs in six innings across his last seven outings. It has been a troubling stretch for a guy who had a nice start to this season and until recently looked like a potential playoff option.

Revere's best game in a while: The Nationals had 14 hits on Sunday and three of them came from center fielder Ben Revere. It was his fifth game this season with at least three hits and his first since July 1. Since Trea Turner took over for him in center, playing time has been hard to come by for Revere, but lately he's been making the most of it. Sunday was Revere's fourth start in September and in those games he has six hits and four runs. He also added two steals in Sunday's win, his first multi-steal game since June 27.

[RELATED: Nationals took relatively smooth road to winning 2016 NL East]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES